IDF to hold joint air drills with US, simulating strikes on Iran and proxies

After army chief Kohavi’s visit to US, military says fighter jets and refuelers will ‘simulate a number of scenarios in the face of regional threats’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)
Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday said it would be holding a series of joint aerial exercises with the US military, simulating strikes against Iran and its regional terror proxies.

In a statement, the IDF said the drills, set to take place over Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, would begin Tuesday.

“Fighter jets and refuelers from the IAF and the US Air Force will take part in the exercise and simulate a number of scenarios in the face of regional threats,” the statement said.

The joint drill was agreed upon during IDF chief Aviv Kohavi’s trip to the US last week.

The IDF said Kohavi told American defense officials in Washington that the two militaries must accelerate joint plans for offensive actions against Iran.

On Thursday, Kohavi said joint activities with the US military in the Middle East would be “significantly expanded.”

“In order to improve our capabilities in the face of challenges in the region, joint activity with the US Central Command will be significantly expanded in the near future,” Kohavi said in remarks provided by the IDF after he returned to Israel following the trip.

“At the same time, the IDF will continue to act at an accelerated rate against the entrenchment of the Iranian regime in the region,” he added.

Kohavi held meetings with senior American officials over five days, focused on the Iranian threat.

“During the discussions, it was agreed that we are at a critical point in time that requires the acceleration of operational plans and cooperation against Iran and its terrorist proxies in the region,” he said last week.

Last week, a military source initially said they could not confirm reports of the planned drill.

This September 1, 2014 file photo, shows a nuclear research reactor at the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Jerusalem opposes US President Joe Biden’s attempts to revive a nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers that traded sanctions reliefs for curbs on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

But that disagreement has been less relevant lately, as nuclear talks have fizzled and the US has chosen to focus on addressing the ongoing protests in Iran against the regime.

Israel has been pushing for the US to prepare military contingency plans in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Biden has said he is prepared to use military force if necessary, but still prefers to exhaust the diplomatic route first.

In light of growing uncertainty regarding a return by Iran to the deal, the past two years have seen the IDF ramp up efforts to prepare a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear sites.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, non-proliferation experts warn Tehran has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.

Israeli officials have also warned of Iran’s proxies across the region, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, as well as other groups based in Syria.

The official Washington visit was Kohavi’s final scheduled one as chief of staff, as his tenure is set to end on January 17.

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